‘No one gets to the top without help’
At its core, the No Barriers organization is about creating community and helping people build a rope team to support them through the highs and the lows of life.
Nearly six decades after hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 1960, California’s Squaw Valley played host to another collection of remarkable human beings during the 2019 No Barriers Summit in June.
In the shadow of the Sierra Nevada’s snowcapped mountains, the organization’s annual Summit once again brought together hundreds of people — some living with visible disabilities like amputations or blindness, and others dealing with less-evident personal challenges, like PTSD. And while some came in search of inspiration and others community, they all joined together to embrace the No Barriers mindset that ‘what’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.’
Over the course of three days, the Summit offered a variety of adaptive activities — including archery, hiking, rafting, meditation, and self-defense — designed to push attendees out of their comfort zones and empower them to break through personal barriers.
“I was still adapting and dealing with all these new ways of doing things. Following my amputation, I often felt like a zebra hanging out with a bunch of horses, but when I came to that first No Barriers Summit, it was like, these are my zebras.” — Rustin Hughes
For Rustin Hughes — a retired Army veteran who, in 2014, had his lower right leg amputated due to complications from a blood clot in his femoral artery — this year marked his fifth straight No Barriers Summit where he has instructed an introductory course in adaptive boxing for attendees.
“After I lost my leg, I was working with the VA on an adaptive exercise program and was approached about being an activity provider at the No Barriers Summit in 2015. I said, ‘Yeah, sure, I’d love to.’ But, at that time, I really didn’t know what that meant and how beneficial that would be for me in my recovery,” said Hughes, who had been working with Veterans Affairs. “I was still adapting and dealing with all these new ways of doing things. Following my amputation, I often felt like a zebra hanging out with a bunch of horses, but when I came to that first No Barriers Summit, it was like, these are my zebras.”
That experience propelled Hughes to start his Fort Collins, Colorado-based 501(c)(3), B-Bold, in 2016, developing and coaching adaptive sports to help individuals with disabilities in his community.
“What No Barriers allowed me to realize that first year — and what has since become part of my mission in helping others — is that, no matter where you are in life, no one gets to the top without help.”
‘You just hope to find kindred spirits that believe in the message’
Using transformative experiences to change people’s mindsets about what is possible is what the No Barriers organization seeks to do — both at its annual Summit, which has been sponsored by Wells Fargo for the past five years, and throughout the year — said Erik Weihenmayer, who co-founded the organization in 2003.
“The Summit is really a festival and celebration of the No Barriers life,” said Weihenmayer. “We celebrate this life through inspiration and education, teaching people new tools, new insights, and a stronger mindset that helps them to break through barriers in their life — to tap into the light of the human spirit, to find their purpose, and to use all of that to elevate the world around them.”
Weihenmayer speaks from experience: After dealing with the loss of his eyesight as a teenager due to a rare eye disease, he has gone on to climb the Seven Summits (the highest point on every continent) and, in doing so, he became the first blind climber to summit the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest. And as an encore, he kayaked the entire 277-mile length of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
“I’ve worked to use my expeditions as a platform to do some good and inspire people to overcome their barriers — and we had this feeling 16 years ago that this was a message that all people would connect with,” said Weihenmayer. “When you build a movement like No Barriers and you’re trying to grow it, you just hope to find kindred spirits that believe in the message. Now we come to an event like this Summit, with a thousand people totally supporting each other as part of this rope team.”
‘If one person falls, the rest of the team is there to keep them from falling too far’
The No Barriers organization uses a lot of symbolism to bring to life its mission, but maybe none more often than the term ‘rope team,’ according to Dave Shurna, who co-founded No Barriers with Weihenmayer.
“Part of our core philosophy about how people break through diversity is that they have to build what we call a rope team around them,” said Shurna. “The term rope team comes from mountain climbing — where you are literally roped up together on a mountain. So now, if one person falls, the rest of the team is there to keep them from falling too far and they are able to try again. And this idea of building a rope team for No Barriers is kind of what holds us together in our greatest challenges and our greatest opportunities.”
Image description 1
A smiling photo of Kathy Martinez, head of Disability and Accessibility Strategy at Wells Fargo. Her quote says, “Wells Fargo is very proud to sponsor the No Barriers Summit and show the public that we support people with disabilities in the workplace, in the marketplace, and in the community.”
Image description 2
A photo of Jamie Moldafsky, Wells Fargo chief marketing officer, with an owl on her gloved arm. Her quote says, “Whether it’s the support of veterans, people with disabilities, or youth — both Wells Fargo and No Barriers are actively empowering those individuals to achieve their best and to be their best.”
Image description 3
Jerry Quinn, head of Enterprise Military & Veteran Initiatives at Wells Fargo, on a climbing wall. His quote says, “We all face some type of challenge and we all have to overcome some type of barrier, and the Summit provides an opportunity for us to learn from each other on how to lead a more fulfilling life.”
In noting how this support can often manifest in many forms and from many sources, Shurna cited how Wells Fargo has come to play a key role for his organization’s rope team.
“You have to build this solid rope team around you to help elevate you and your dreams, and Wells Fargo is a critical member of the No Barriers’ rope team,” said Shurna. “The bank started working with us when we were much smaller and helped build national awareness of why this message matters and how you can get involved.”
During this year’s Summit, Wells Fargo addressed the importance of employment for people with disabilities — not just for income but also for personal fulfillment and a sense of purpose. The bank offered attendees the opportunity to have private, one-on-one career conversations with the company’s team members, who provided advice on job opportunities and coaching on things like resume building and other approaches to the job search. Wells Fargo also helped amplify the No Barriers mindset by hosting daily Empowerful Exchange Live events — hands-on, high-energy sessions where speakers shared their life-changing stories, including Kristan Seaford, a licensed therapist and triple amputee.
In addition to the Summit, Wells Fargo sponsors No Barriers Warriors, the transformational program that has been helping military veterans find their footing after returning home since 2014. And for the past three years, the company has also sponsored the Global Impact Challenge for middle and high school students looking to solve community barriers to diversity and inclusion.
“We’re such proud sponsors of No Barriers, and one of the most interesting things about our partnership is there is such a synergy between the goals of No Barriers and the goals of Wells Fargo,” said Jamie Moldafsky, Wells Fargo’s chief marketing officer. “Whether it’s the support of veterans, people with disabilities, or youth — both organizations are actively empowering those individuals to achieve their best and to be their best.”